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Bird Flu: 10 Questions, 10 Answers

What You Can Do; What the Government Is Doing


"Nobody says these drugs are going to protect everybody," Moscona tells WebMD. "But in an epidemic, a drug that prevents as little as 50% of transmission, even that has a role."

Vaccines, not antiviral drugs, are the key to stopping the flu. An experimental H5N1 vaccine has been made -- a major scientific achievement. New ways of using it already are in the works.

But the first batch of this prototype vaccine likely will not be a good match for whatever bird flu virus eventually emerges to cause a pandemic. New batches of vaccine will have to be made. That process would take more than a year before most people can be immunized. And it will take two shots, weeks apart, before a person is protected. Meanwhile, experts suspect that modern transportation would carry flu around the world.

Since a vaccine won't immediately be available, flu drugs will be a major line of defense. But there won't be enough of the drugs to go around unless the next pandemic waits several years to strike.

6. Should individuals stock up on flu drugs?

No. Several flu experts tell WebMD that they are not stocking up on flu drugs, and they strongly recommend that individuals follow their lead.

Why? First of all, the drugs are in short supply. In the event of a pandemic, public health workers will need all the flu drugs they can get in order to treat people actually exposed to the virus. The drugs won't do nearly as much good sitting in people's medicine cabinets.

And even if you had the drugs on hand, when would you take them? Without a flu test, it's hard to know whether your symptoms are the flu or another respiratory infection. And the pills only work against the flu.

7. Can you get bird flu from eating chicken or other poultry?

No, not if the meat is fully cooked. Cooking kills flu viruses in poultry, meat, and eggs.

The bird flu virus can survive on raw meat from infected poultry. Proper hygiene -- hand washing and the disinfecting of all surfaces that come in contact with the meat -- is essential.

8. How do you catch bird flu?

People have caught bird flu from handling infected poultry and from surfaces contaminated with poultry feces. There are a few suspected cases of human-to-human bird flu transmission. This happened only after prolonged face-to-face contact. But bird flu has not learned how to spread easily from person to person.

9. Is there more than one type of bird flu?

Yes. The H5N1 bird flu gets a lot of attention because it is so widespread in Asia, and because many of the people unlucky enough to catch it from poultry have died.

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